To compete or not to compete…that was the question.
For the first several months after starting Level Ground, I hedged on whether we should sponsor a competition team. Part of the beauty of Level Ground – and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in general – is the accessibility of the sport across a range of personalities and athletic abilities. Combat sports, such as BJJ and Muay Thai, cultivate a fierce bond and respect among practitioners, from the outgoing jock to the introverted wall flower. What matters first and foremost are one’s work ethic, passion for the sport, and kindness towards their training partners.
I was concerned that forming a competition team would disrupt this culture by creating a hierarchy based on (a) participation on the competition team, and (b) performance in competition. We all know what it feels like to not be one of the cool kids – to not quite fit in. Many of our students report that Level Ground is the one place where they find true acceptance for exactly who they are, and the last thing I wanted was to compromise the safe haven that is the mat.
However, we found that providing competition access greatly enhanced our training environment and, more importantly, the bond between teammates. Competitors became hungry to train harder and longer, and non-competitors helped them accomplish this. Thirty minutes worth of sparring soon became 50 minutes, with the majority of students continuing to roll for an additional 20-30 minutes after class ended. In order to thrive in a more challenging training environment, we have seen increased time management, consistency, and focus on nutrition among all students. The fact of whether or not a kid actually competes is irrelevant; what matters is that they push themselves and their training partner on and off the mat.
Our competition team has traveled to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and various locations in Massachusetts, with the non-competitors tagging along to cheer them on. While the team has brought home dozens of medals, they’ve also learned how to embrace the growth experience the losses provide.
William G. is a prime example of a Level Ground student athlete. One of my favorite memories of him is after he was submitted in his first match. I went to give him a hug, which he reciprocated briefly before running up to his opponent, putting his arm around him, and proceeding to question him about his training regimen.
William is always the first to arrive at Level Ground for tutoring and last to leave the mat – a work ethic that has earned him double gold medals at multiple competitions he has attended. Simultaneously, he balances school, work, and JROTC. He and the team will be competing in Maine and Rhode Island in October, and New York in November.
Says Will, “When I first came to Level Ground, it was like Heaven around me. I met great trainers who welcomed me into a new home and family. My teammates push me not to fear. My trainers push me to learn and work toward achieving my goals. They and I welcome everyone who is new to Level Ground. Competitions help me set my mind on achieving my goals and learning for the betterment of myself.”
We are so proud that Level Ground is a place where any youth, like William, can come and develop as an athlete in a safe, nurturing, and incredibly challenging environment. A place where students realize the greatest competition is in fact with the limitations they impose on themselves. And where they find the self-determination to break through these barriers and passionately pursue their dreams.
To sponsor one of our competitors for our upcoming tournaments in October and November, please donate below. Registration fee is $60 per student.